Clearly, Barrique Kitchen & Wine Bar has the "it" factor. Tables are hard to come by, the bar is often packed three deep. A friend observes that everyone in the restaurant is smiling.
Surroundings amp up the festive feel. In a makeover coup, the former Emerson's space has been expanded and redone using rustic brick, timbers, even a communal table made from an old barn door. Chef Pierre Rougey (who owned Emerson's) turns out gently priced small plates meant for sharing; figure on about two a person. A thoughtfully conceived wine list features 30 selections by the 3- or 6-ounce glass.
REASON TO SMILE
I ask our knowledgeable, young server to recommend a bottle of a big, fruity red, and he suggests an inexpensive Primitivo. Ideal. Another night, we're offered tastes before settling on choices by the glass.
A cracker-thin crust Margherita pizza is capped with an exceptionally creamy mozzarella-marinara-basil confluence. Tender hyper-flavorful roasted baby octopus is spiked with red chili; prosciutto-wrapped pork loin gets a jolt from a Pommerey demiglaze.
It's hard to resist a home-style veal meatball slider or zesty grill-pressed tazzo ham sandwich with fennel, Brie and grainy mustard. Lamb chops are tender and peppery, sea scallops perfectly seared. Rich braised short ribs with creamy mashed potatoes are followed by a sprightly watermelon salad. Go the right night, and you might catch a special such as crab cake over black-bean salsa.
I'm taken with the hand-cut fries poking out of a metal measuring cup; even better are polenta fries paired with a subtly spiced red pepper salsa.
Layered desserts (cake, filling, fruit, freshly whipped cream) are presented in clear glasses; choose among such flavors as Key lime, chocolate, apple pie and a superb strawberry-laced "cheesecake."
This is what eating should be: indulgence without excess.
REASON TO QUIBBLE
Vegetables plated with meat dishes can be swamped by whatever sauce is in the dish.
Then, there's the noise level and no-reservations policy.
Go early or prepare to wait.
Barrique Kitchen & Wine Bar is located at 69 Deer Park Ave., Babylon, 631-321-1175